OBJECTIONS TO CHRISTIAN UNION CALMLY CONSIDERED.

[The Christian Messenger 1 (December 25, 1826): 25-37.]


      Objection 1.--In the present existing state of society, it is right and best that Christians should be divided, and remain as they are.

      Answer.--There are not a few in this day, who openly avow this sentiment, and plead for its propriety. If we judge the sentiment by the Bible, as the standard, there are none, it is hoped, so blind but must see it condemned in almost every page. It is a true maxim, that a kingdom divided against itself, cannot stand; and it is universally admitted, that the glory and strength of any kingdom consist in union. So the kingdom of God. The man, who pleads for disunion, is laboring to make void the commandment of God, who solemnly enjoins the contrary upon his people--he pleads against the prayer of Jesus being answered, who fervently prayed that all believers might all be one, that the world might believe that the Father had sent him--he pleads against the spirit of true piety, which ardently breathes as well as prays for union--he pleads for that, which is pleasing to the prince of darkness, who has ever found it his interest to divide the Church of God--he pleads for what subserves the interests of partyism; for his pleas, like opiates, lull the people to sleep, and to indifference to the truth of God, the glory of Zion, and the salvation of men:--in a word, the man, who pleads for the propriety of disunion, pleads for iniquity. To contend that it is right, is an impeachment of infinite wisdom--a condemnation of the Messiah's prayer, and a deadly blow aimed at the very spirit of piety. However well the sentiment may comport with the spirit of partyism, it is humbly hoped, the obedient, living Christians, of every name, [25] will from it from existence, and prove by their conduct, that it is the offspring of error, and ignorance of true piety.

      Obj. 2.--Another objection often made, is, that however right the principle of Christians uniting may be, yet the various sects are not yet prepared; the time is not yet arrived, when this desirable event shall take place. The Lord will effect it, when he shall judge it proper to be done.

      Ans.--This objection is similar to what we frequently hear from the careless part of mankind, when urged to seek and obtain religion. We cannot, say, get religion till God's time come; we are not yet prepared. Surely every faithful Christian would reply to such-- NOW is God's time--NOW it is your duty to believe and obey him, and in the use of these means you shall be saved. In the same manner we would answer the objector to Christian union. NOW is God's time--NOW it is right for all to believe and obey God, and the work, the desirable work, shall be done. Do we think that this work shall be effected by miracles, or by any other means than those ordained by infinite wisdom? And can any doubt that these means are faith, and humble obedience to the word of God? When shall we be better prepared to believe and obey than we are now? Can we think that by continuing in unbelief and disobedience, is the way to obtain faith and obedience? This is contrary to reason and experience; for sin grows by indulgence in the fruitful soil of indolence. The question should be, Is it right for Christians to be united according to the scriptures? If so, the opposite must be wrong. Can a Christian feel justified in living in a known error one moment? Can such conduct be pleasing to God? Is not the way of right plainly marked by infinite wisdom, and shall we make objections to walking in it? Let Christians seriously think of these things; and when convinced of their past impropriety, let them immediately reform.

      Obj. 3.--It is commonly objected, that the multitude of errors in doctrine, existing among the various sects, [26] forbids their union and communion, and must keep them divided, while these errors remain.

      Ans.--This, at the first view, is the most formidable objection made against the doctrine, for which we plead; but by a little attention, we shall see it founded on error, and its discouraging appearance will evaporate, as a dark mist before the rising sun. All Christians believe that the Bible is God's revelation to the world, and contains all the truth necessary for us to know in order to obtain eternal life. From the beginning, various opinions have been formed of many of these truths. This is a liberty, which could never be denied to any man, without denying the liberty of thinking at all. This cannot easily be done; and every attempt to do it is an attempt to enslave the mind. How different did the Christians think on many subjects, even in Apostolic times? Yet how far were the Apostles from making this diversity of opinions a term of fellowship among humble Christians! On the contrary, they exhort them to forbear one another, endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, till we all come in the unity of the faith.--Eph. IV. 3, 13. In those days there were but few terms of communion among Christians. All were admitted to fellowship, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and obeyed him; and their obedience was considered the best evidence of their faith. This was the lesson taught them by their Lord, who said, By their works shall ye know them; and Whose doeth the will of my Father, the same is my brother, my sister, and my mother. If opinions of truth were to be made terms of fellowship, it is much questioned whether any two men on earth could so perfectly agree in all points, as ever to unite; there would be no end of terms--there could be no union or fellowship on earth.

      It is now granted by all parties, that every wrong opinion of truth, not absolutely essential, should not be made a term of fellowship; but it is contended, that there are some doctrines essential to salvation, and that errors in opinion respecting them, ought to exclude those who hold them from the union and fellowship of [27] Christians. We grant that any opinion, which may have such an influence on the heart of any man, as to lead him to immortality and disobedience to the gospel--to the neglect of his duty to God, and to his neighbor, or to the subversion of plain, fundamental truth, ought certainly to be reprobated, and he that holds such an opinion should be rejected from Christian fellowship; because his works prove him to be a heretic, knowing that he that is such, is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.--Titus III. 11.--A few particulars we will adduce for illustration. It is a fundamental truth, that there is a Father and a son; but any opinion that leads to the denial of them, John declares to be anti-Christian; He is Antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son.--1 John, II. 22. It is a fundamental truth, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; but any opinion of this truth that leads to the denial of it, is fatal: Who is a liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?--Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father. 1 John, II. 22, 23. It is a fundamental truth, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; but any opinion of this truth that leads to the denial of it, is fatal: Who is a liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?--Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father. 1 John, II. 22, 23. It is a fundamental truth, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh; but any opinion which contradicts this, is declared to be of Antichrist: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God; and this is that spirit of Antichrist. 1 John, I. 3. It is also a fundamental truth, that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose again from the dead; whatever opinion, therefore, goes to contradict these facts, goes to prove the Apostles false witnesses; for they all testified that he did rise from the dead--and if they are false witnesses, our faith in their testimony, which is the whole New Testament, is vain, and all are yet in our sins. 1 Cor. XV. Another fundamental truth is, that we must believe in Jesus Christ and obey him, in order to obtain salvation and eternal life; if any opinion leads to disannul this truth, it must be in direct opposition to God's appointed method of salvation, and therefore brings ruin upon the person who receives it, and is so influenced by it as to act in accordance with it.

      In these particulars, we presume all Christians agree; and we are happy to find that the terms of Christian [28] union and fellowship are considerably diminished in number. Such has been the mania for uniformity of doctrines, that almost every diversity of opinion, even on points of minor importance, has been reckoned a sufficient reason to exclude an humble believer from fellowship and union with his fellow-christians. But of late, in this day of free inquiry, the frowns of truth, and the blush of piety at such intolerance, have banished a great many of them from the churches. A few yet remain, but await the same fate, and are fast approaching their end. These may be reduced to three, which are the orthodox notions of Trinity--the Son of God--and atonement. These are now generally called the fundamentals of religion--the doctrines which distinguish Christianity from infidelity.

      1. We shall begin with the Trinity, and inquire whether this doctrine is fundamental, or whether the notions formed of it ought to be terms of communion among Christians. The orthodox notion of Trinity seems to be this: that there are three persons in the same one Being, substance, or nature, which Being is God. We have honestly searched for this doctrine in the Bible, but we have never found it there. We have searched for it in the first ages of the church, but are constrained to believe that it was unknown to the Christians till about the time of the Nicene Council, in the year of our Lord 325. Before that period, the church believed in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; but the obligation to believe that these three were the same one Being, or substance, or God, was never imposed upon it, and therefore this doctrine could not have been then a term of fellowship.

      The doctrine, that the Father and the Son are the same one substance, was the point on which the church at first divided, and on which that division is yet perpetuated. Happy would it have been for the church, had Alexander and Arius have slept with their fathers, before they had ever introduced this useless and mischievous controversy. Happy would have been the church, had their notions and speculations have died with them, and never more revived. Happy would she have been [29] had she never attached such importance to them, as to make them terms of union and communion. Ever since that unhappy period, there have been, and still are so many speculations afloat on this doctrine, and Trinitarians themselves so much divided in their notions, that it is impossible to ascertain the tangible point, which may be called orthodoxy. Some, thinking it humility to discard reason from religion, content themselves with believing in three persons in the one Godhead, without attaching any ideas to the doctrine, calling it an incomprehensible mystery. Others contend that there are three intelligent persons, or conscious agents, in the one divine essence, or Being, God. Others reject this as tritheism, and contend that these three, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, are three distinctions, or three modes, or three relations, or three perfections, or three somewhats, existing in the one God; which distinctions they do not profess to understand, but which must be so defined to exclude the idea of three distinct Gods, or three distinct spirits, or three distinct minds. However jarring and discordant their notions may be, and whatever ideas their language may communicate; yet it is believed, that none have affirmed or contended, that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are three distinct, intelligent Spirits; but all affirm that God is one intelligent Spirit--none have contended that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct, intelligent minds, but all agree that God is one infinite, intelligent mind. Why then this endless controversy about unintelligible language and notions?

      It is impossible that all these discrepant notions can be right. Let either of them be taken as the standard of orthodoxy, then, judged by it, all the others must be condemned. If the doctrine of Trinity be an incomprehensible mystery, it cannot be understood by any. How then can we judge others by it? Had I a standard to judge of weights and measures, of which standard I was perfectly ignorant, how could I judge and determine by it? Just as well as by a standard of doctrine of which I was ignorant.

      Suppose an orthodox ecclesiastical court were in [30] session, to examine candidates for fellowship and union, with regard to their faith in the doctrine of Trinity. A follower of the pious Richard Baxter professes his faith; I believe, says he, that there are three persons in the one God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; but I do not understand three intelligent persons, spirits nor minds; but three perfections personified, as power, wisdom and love. Power representing the Father, Wisdom the Son, and Love the Holy Spirit. The court might say, your definition of three persons is not orthodox. Pray, sirs, says the candidate, what is the orthodox notion of the three persons? They cannot tell; for language is too poor to express it. If they cannot define their own language, and terms, how can the candidate know what to believe as right? And must not their condemnation of him be unreasonable, and entirely arbitrary.

      Another candidate advances, and says, I believe in the Trinity, not of persons, but of three personal distinctions, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost; by these distinctions, I do not understand three proper persons, nor three distinct spirits or minds, but three undefinable somewhats. Would the court receive this as orthodox? If they did, then they might receive every one, who professes faith in Trinity, with or without any explanation. Indeed, it appears that the word trinity is the watchword of orthodoxy, which permits men to pass the guards unmolested. If the Baxterian and Andover Trinitarians can pass the ordeal of an orthodox court, and be admitted to communion and union with the saints, why do they reject Unitarians, who are far from disbelieving that the three perfections, Power, Wisdom and Love, exist in the one God, but most assuredly believe it? and who also admit, that not only three distinctions may exist in the one God, but scores may exist in him unknown to us? If this court were to judge by the letter of the Confession of Faith, it is believed, that but very few would be found orthodox in the world; for how few now believe, that the Son was eternally begotten of the Father! To make the notions of men on this doctrine terms of union, we think unwarranted by the word of [31] God, and calculated to strengthen the spirit of opposition towards one another. Nor are we alone in this opinion; for it is well known, that these discordant notions are commonly found in the same sect of Christians, and yet are they tolerated. But why they were tolerated by one sect among themselves, and not to others of a different name, is a question we do not undertake to solve.

      2. We shall next enquire, whether the orthodox notions of the Son of God should be considered so essential as to justify the exclusion of all who do not receive them. On this subject, there has been more speculation than on any other in Theology; and these speculations have excited more bad feelings, and have produced more mischief in society, than can be well conceived. The orthodox notions appear to be, that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, and eternally begotten of God, and yet is himself the only true God; that in time he became man or was united to a perfect man in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, and suffered and died for us; that these two persons, very God and very man, were but one person, without conversions, composition, or confusion; that the two natures, divinity and humanity, were inseparably united, never to be divided.

      These things appear to us the wildest speculations ever invented by man--we say, by man, because we cannot find such doctrines taught in the Bible; to us they appear to be self-contradictory. From the Apostolic days to the noted Council of Nice, these doctrines were unknown among Christians; in fact, the opposite to them were taught in all the churches. This we have already evinced in our Letters to Dr. James Blythe. Many of the orthodox, so reputed, are now rejecting these notions from a full conviction that they are not Bible-doctrines. It appears to us impossible for such apparent contradictions long to bear the increasing light of gospel truth. We think that all Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the only begotten Son of God, God's own Son, his Protokos, or the one born every creature--who came down from heaven, not to do his own will, but the will of him that sent him--who was [32] sent by the Father to be the Savior of the world--who took flesh and blood such as the children had, a body which God had prepared for him by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary--who was born of her and tabernacled among us--whom God anointed with the Holy Ghost, or put his Spirit upon him, the spirit of understanding, of might, of wisdom and knowledge--who received this spirit without measure, or in whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, because it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell--that he died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried and rose again from the dead the third day, and was received up into glory, the glory he had with the Father before the world was--who sat down at the right hand of God, and ever liveth to make intercession for us--who will come again to judge the world in righteousness, and assign all men their eternal portions. In this faith, all Christians can surely agree; for this must be confessed to be the doctrine of God, and surely none will deny this to be sufficient for salvation.

      Those speculations before noticed, we are persuaded, the majority of professors of religion reject, or do not believe. It was once deemed by the orthodox, a heresy of a blasphemous and damnable nature, to deny that Christ was the eternal son of God.* Now, by many of the same class, this option is considered as absurd and foolish; the celebrated Dr. Clarke, professor Stewart, and others, taking the lead. It is feared, that their system will ultimate in a something as far below the truth as the other is above it. The fact, that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, is believed by all Christians of every name; and if they prove their faith by their good works, their peculiar notions of his person should not be made terms of fellowship and union.

      A person is sick, and apparently nigh to death. Two friends visit him. One of them urges him to apply to a certain physician, who never fails to cure the most [33] obstinate disease. The friend expatiates largely upon his lovely character, as embracing all the virtues and graces of man. He tells of his noble birth of royal blood, born in a foreign land, and educated in the most celebrated college in the world. The other friend also, in a pressing manner, recommends to the sick man this physician. He assures him that he can and will cure him, if he will apply to him. He also dwells largely on his amiable character, in order to engage the sick man to send for him. But, says he, my friend has not given you a true representation of this physician's person, though he has truly delineated his character, power and skill. He is not of royal blood, nor was he born in a foreign land, nor educated in a college. His parentage is low, he was born in America, and his literary acquirements are very moderate. The two friends enter into a warm, spirited and angry debate, respecting their different opinions of the physician's person; each urging the sick man to believe his notions of the physician as correct, and essential to his care. The sick man attends to their debates till his mind becomes confused. At length he speaks: my friends, while you dispute I am dying. You both agree in the main point, that this amiable person is able and willing to cure me, and save me from death. On your recommendation, I will apply to him. He applies, and is cured. Now will these two friends deny that the man is cured by the physician, because he might not have received the peculiar notions of either? Must not each yield to the fact, that the man is cured? Shall this man be rejected from their house and society, because he had not believed their particular opinions? Surely not.

      The application is easy. Do not all Christian recommend the Son of God as the most lovely character, and as a willing and able Savior? Do not all love him and obey him, and acknowledge him their Savior? Why then should they dispute and divide about their peculiar notions of this person? Poor Joseph knew nothing more than that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners--he knew he was a sinner--he trusted in Jesus [34] and was saved. How many poor Africans and children are blessed with salvation, who knew not the meaning of the terms, which agitate and divide the learned! Shall such be rejected because they cannot pronounce Shibboleth? We think not. Such are commonly found, and prove that these notions are not essential to salvation, and therefore should not be made terms of communion.

      Another doctrine, considered of vital importance in religion, is the orthodox notion of atonement. The notion is, that Jesus Christ died to make a proper, full, and complete satisfaction to law and justice in the room of the guilty, and that this satisfaction is accounted to them for justification. This notion has long been deemed so sacred, that to deny it has been reckoned a crime of such magnitude, as to exclude from the church the person who dared it. This appears to us strange and unwarrantable; because whatever is not plainly taught in the Bible, should not be made a term of union and communion. Dr. Murdock, a learned, patristical investigator, and a Presbyterian professor in the theological school at Andover, has lately published that this notion of Atonement was never known in the church, till invented by Anselm, a Roman Catholic priest, in the eleventh century. This notion was received and improved by the Reformers, Luther and Calvin; and has been handed down to the present age, and received as the truth of God, as a fundamental truth--the sine qua non of religion.

      The orthodox themselves have been much divided on the question, For whom did Christ die? The Calvinists affirming for a part only of mankind; the Arminians for all. On this point these two parties have waged an ecclesiastical war for many years. The Arminians have at one time driven the Calvinists to the frozen regions of partial love, sovereign, eternal and unconditional election and reprobation. The Calvinists in turn have driven the Arminians to the burning regions of hell to save from its flames all the race of Adam; alleging if Christ died for all, and made a perfect satisfaction for all their sins, both original and actual, then hell could not hold [35] them. The contest has been hot, and the combatant greatly irritated against each other. All who were enlisted in each party, of every age and sex, were taught to wield the sword, and to regard the opposite party as enemies. Union and fellowship between them appeared to be infinitely distant. But we are happy to find, that this excitement has considerably abated. It is evident that the Arminians have so far obtained the victory, that the Calvinists generally have come to a parley, and have so modified and explained the doctrine, that an amalgamation is fast taking place between them. We do not wish to be understood, that they have modified this doctrine in their Constitutions or Confessions of Faith, for it stands unaltered there; but in their public and private communications. This, by some, may be considered an uncharitable insinuation against their honesty. It is not designed as such; but the fact, above stated, cannot be denied. It shews that such Confessions of Faith are not in high repute among them, and will soon be abandoned as galling yokes, and trammels on the conscience.

      Many of the orthodox in the present age are brought seriously to doubt their former definition of atonement, as meaning satisfaction to law and justice. For they thus reason--if Christ made satisfaction for a part only, then of course salvation is not for all; how then can they preach the gospel of salvation to all?--How can they call upon all to believe in Christ, as their Savior?--How can the reprobate be guilty for not believing?--How can he be judged, &c.? They justly reason, if Christ made a perfect satisfaction for all, then must all be saved.--These inquiries have greatly puzzled and perplexed them. To us they appear evidently receding from the old system, and are about to settle on Bishop M'Gee's theory; which is that the sacrifice of Christ, is the means devised by infinite wisdom, through which he can shew mercy to the guilty; but how this means may operate to this effect, he knows not, nor is concerned to know. If by this they mean that by the death of Christ something is dome, by which God can shew mercy to the sinners [36] consistently with his law, justice and government; surely had that something been necessary for us to know, in order to our salvation, he would have revealed it. The unrevealed something ought to have been by us left among the secret things of God, which do not belong to us. But vain man would be wise above what is written. They have racked their minds to find out this something. Some have said, it is that which has made God placable, others that it is that by which the demands of law and justice against the sinner are satisfied, &c. These notions have been made terms of communion, by which much mischief and disorder have been produced in the Church. All agree that the sacrifice of Christ is the means of our reconciliation to God--of cleansing, purging, sanctifying, and washing us from sin--of putting away sin, &c. These are clearly revealed. But whether this sacrifice has the effects of God as stated by some, is doubted by many, who think such notions not contained in the Bible. This may be the subject of future discussion. John, the evangelist wrote a book, and said in the conclusion of it, "These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name." He thought enough had been written in that book for faith and eternal life. But it is evident that the orthodox notions of atonement are not found in it. Therefore they were not thought by John essential; and should not be considered so necessary as to justify the excommunication of christians.


      * See BROWN'S Dictionary Bible--article, Christ.